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Have you ever spanked your child? You know: hit, slapped, shoved, shaken, or spanked a child on the bottom? Lots of parents have, even if they won’t admit it. And those who do admit it think that spanking is no big deal. They claim it’s effective. Is it?

Well, certainly spanking has the effect of stopping whatever is going on pretty quickly. It directs a child’s attention away from whatever she’s been doing back to you. So it’s effective in that way. But does spanking effectively develop a child’s ability to know right from wrong and to get along better as a person? All the research says “No.”

Spanking ranges on a continuum, of, course, from the very occasional swat all the way up to daily beatings. Obviously, daily beatings are bad. But that occasional swat isn’t good either. A long-term, large scale study reported in the medical journal Pediatrics found that children who were spanked the most at age three had the most behavior problems at age five. The lead researcher reported, “The odds of a child being more aggressive at age 5 increased by 50% if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began.” More than twice in a month: three times. That’s occasional. And that has a strong negative effect. And the study accounted for the children’s natural differences in temperament. “It’s not just that children who are more aggressive are more likely to be spanked,” the lead researcher said.

Spanking doesn’t teach good behavior. It doesn’t teach kids what they should do. Spanking teaches bad behavior. It teaches that when you don’t like what you see or aren’t getting what you want, the adult thing to do is to hit. That’s what Mom and Dad do.

How often do you spank your child? For many parents, it’s just about every day. A couple times a week. Why?

Parents spank because spanking is quick. It requires no thinking, no conversation, no teaching. One doesn’t actually have to do any of the hard work of being a parent when one spanks.

What parents don’t realize is that spanking is bad for their children and it’s bad for them. Spanking raises your blood pressure, heightens adrenaline levels, and increases your stress. Notice how you feel after you administer a spanking: notice your heart rate, your own level of upset. Violence takes its toll. (And if hitting your child makes you feel good, then you have serious psychological issues.)

Many parents defend spanking by saying, “He was asking for it.” Not even big children want you to hit them. But older children may like to provoke you to the point of violence. When older kids do that, it has the effect of reducing your power. They know that when you hit, you are acting like a child yourself. You have destroyed your own authority. When you spank your child, he can ignore you because you don’t deserve his respect.

If you are a spanker, it won’t be easy to stop. You will need to try to get through each day, one at a time, without hitting your child. It helps to have an alternative strategy in mind. There are many good books and sites on positive discipline. Seek these out.

But stop the spanking. Even a little bit is way too much.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.